“Infographics” is one of those ugly American words where they’ve smooshed (that’s another one) two perfectly legitimate individual words – ‘information’ and ‘graphics’ – into something slightly worse but two times quicker to say. It’s up there with ‘synergize’ in terms of Newspeak. However, despite my qualms with the name, infographics are an undeniable hallmark of the current HTML5 era. We’ve briefly touched upon their efficacy in a discussion on animated infographics, but now I’d also like to explore what static infographic can do for a site.
It’s often said that the human brain can process visual information 6000 times faster than textual. You’re never going to get an image of a tree through a really beautiful, vivid textual description as you would through just looking at a tree, right?
With so much information saturating practically every space in our lives, people are learning to switch off from content that doesn’t explain itself quickly or make itself readily apparent. British people now spend more time online than they do asleep, and you’ll probably already be aware of the countless statistics demonstrating how we spend X amount of time per day reading web content. One thing that can’t really be measured scientifically, though, is the extent to which users engage with content and process its message. Similarly, there’s little way of knowing why someone switches off from content. These are all subjective factors outside of our control – we truly live in the age of the short attention span. One thing we do have, though, is the power to present content and information in eye-catching, concise ways to increase the chances of engagement.
Graphics may be processed quicker, but it’s harder to communicate abstract concepts with only an image. It’s too open to interpretation, which is why people spend so long talking about paintings at museums. Using a combination of text and images, infographics are able to create visual messages that are reinforced in both directions to maximise potential engagement and fact retention.
There’s a time and a place
“While not appropriate or useful for all types of content, infographics can add valuable context to existing stories by using visuals to show relationships in data, anatomy, hierarchy, chronology, and geography.” So says Ross Crooks of Forbes. In his article, he touches upon an important point: great infographics rely on great content. You can make an infographic as aesthetically pleasing as possible, but the vast majority of its impact comes down to selecting information correctly, doing proper research, good tone, and excellent copy.
They’re therefore not appropriate for every situation. If you’re using them in a marketing context on a site, they’d be suitable for explaining how and why x is a problem, and why your y represents a solution. An infographic that’s nothing more than a hard sell is not going to be effective, and is an inappropriate use of the format. They should be seen as an ultimately informative way of presenting information, not a sales tactic.
It’s therefore vital to use infographics in the context of other good design practices. You want to use it alongside regular blog content, alongside responsive design, and alongside an already-strong service. They aren’t a magic wand that will solve everything, and if your site doesn’t have proper exposure as is, your efforts could be for nought. However, used sparsely and correctly, well-designed infographics can really boost your message or brand.